By LARRY VAUGHT
The last time Kentucky had defeated Florida was so long ago that you could buy a postage stamp, dozen eggs, loaf of bread and gallon of regular gasoline for less than $4.
The most popular movies back in 1986 were Top Gun and Crocodile Dundee. The top three TV shows were Magnum, P.I.; Dynasty; and Falcon Crest.
Well, save those historical references for another year because once again Florida beat Kentucky. This time it was in GUT-WRENCHING FASHION for UK that the Gators overcame a 27-14 deficit going into the fourth quarter to win 28-27.
“It was a very heartbreaking loss for our team,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “There are quite a few plays in games and you never know which one will decide a game. It is very disappointing that we didn’t come up with those plays. The breakdown in communication on the two (scoring) plays are really a sore spot. Our team played winning football. We have to get those things fixed and I accept responsibility for those.”
Just think about this. Twice Kentucky left a Florida receiver completely uncovered after a Florida timeout and gave up a touchdown pass. Two other times Kentucky defenders had chance to make open field tackles to stop a drive and failed. And with UK moving into position for a possible game-winning field goal in the closing seconds, the UK senior Nick Haynes was called for a hold 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he did not see the play but was running the ball to position Austin MacGinnis for a game-winning field goal.
“I asked the ref who it was on and he wouldn’t even tell me,” Haynes said. “I had already pancaked the guy. I felt the flag when Benny was 5-6 yards ahead of me. I didn’t think I was holding. I can’t wait to see it (on video). That’s all I can say.
“It is heartbreaking. To lose on a BS (bullshit) call, that sucks. I definitely did not see it coming.”
It was an electric atmosphere hours before kickoff and the Wildcats did not disappoint, especially quarterback Stephen “All I Do Is Win” Johnson. He threw perfect touchdown passes in the first quarter to Blake Bone and second quarter to Garrett Johnson.
“I thank the fans. They gave us great support,” Stoops said. “It was a great atmosphere. I would like to see it every week but up to us. If players leave on the field and play with that desire and passion, we will have a great fan base like that every week.”
Old Kentucky didn’t go away easily.
Holding a 14-7 lead and with Florida facing a fourth down and three at the UK 45-yard line, the Gators called timeout and decided to go for the first down. Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland ran to the end of the formation near the UK sideline and no UK defender went with him. He waved for the ball. No UK player reaction and the UK coaches watched rather than call one of three timeouts the Cats had. Quarterback Feleipe Franks got the ball to him and Cleveland just got to the end zone to tie the game.
Stoops said in a halftime interview that UK got fooled when Florida showed an unbalanced line. Not sure how that fooled 11 staff members in the press box that could see the field or Stoops, other coaches and UK players on the field and sideline. It was just a big-time mistake.
“I should have called a timeout. I was looking at the set. I was looking at the formation by the time we realized nobody on him, I tried to call timeout and was fractions off,” Stoops said.
Linebacker Josh Allen said he didn’t see Cleveland.
“It was just bad communication,” Allen said. “We gave them the majority of their points. We just have to keep grinding, but this hurts. It hurt seeing that guy so open. I was just praying for him to drop the ball. Defensively, we just gave the game away.”
The Cats had a chance to get the lead back and had a first down at the Florida 21. But an incompletion and two quarterback sacks made Austin MacGinnis try a 48-yard field goal. As good as he has been, this time he was just off. The ball hit the right upright to leave the score tied 14-14 and leave Kentucky extremely frustrated at intermission.
Then the new Kentucky came back. The Cats held Florida without a first down to open the third quarter and behind Johnson’s pinpoint passing drove 67 yards in four plays to score on a 23-yard strike to tight end C.J. Conrad — the first productive tight end UK has had since the departure of Jacob Tamme in 2007 — for a 21-14 lead.
Kentucky could have put the game potentially out of reach with a first down at the Florida five. But a procedure penalty and high snap on third down pushed the ball back to where MacGinnis had to drill a 42-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead.
A Darius West interception — the first of his career — set up a 49-yard field goal and 27-14 lead with 11:33 to go and Kroger Field really got rocking then. But again Kentucky could not stand prosperity. Aided by a 50-yard halfback pass, Florida drove 80 yards in seven plays to cut the lead to 27-21 with 7:58 still to go.
But the last drive hurt the most. The Gators methodically marched down the field as time wound down before backup quarterback Luke Del Rio hit a wide-open Freddie Swain with a 5-yard score with 43 seconds left that won the game.
“We were getting into a goal line set and both corners came out. It was our fault. We should have lived with the players we had. We should not have done that. With the crowd noise, our players could not hear,” Stoops said. “We have to do a better job coaching.”
Kentucky had 11 players on the field, but one was running off and no one was near Swain — and that just cannot happen.
“It was just our fault,” Stoops said. “This one is going to hurt because of what we have invested in this program. I know it hurts our players.
“There are things we have to do better but it is nice to know we have a team built that can play with Florida. That is a very talented football team and our players laid it on the line. It hurts because of what they put into it. You could have heard a pin drop in there (the locker room). They are deflated because they wanted to win this game.”
Stoops emphasized again that Kentucky played well enough to win and blamed himself for not doing more to put the team in position to win.
“We were definitely the better team,” Allen said. “We gave them too much. It just sucks.”